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Dying By Degrees

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The first time her husband looked at another woman, she pretended to laugh at it. They were at a dinner party, the new countess flushing in the glow of her enchanted life. To go from being locked in her father’s upper room day and night, glancing out at the streets of Seville through carved wooden shutters, to gracing all the finest parties and salons day and night could not but set her head awhirl. She clung to Almaviva’s arm throughout these affairs, half from affection, and half to keep her balance amidst the gold and light.

They were across from one another, but involved in separate conversations. She was engaged in discussing a new poem with the host’s daughter, a young woman about Rosine’s own age, and of very superior understanding. Rosine was, as she had often been of late, enjoying herself to the fullest, and she glanced at her husband to ask him a question, still half laughing.

The laugh, however, died on her lips as she noticed him smiling at a young widow. She was blushing, smiling, looking down at her wine. He leaned over to murmur something very low, and she laughed and blushed harder, the color creeping up from her fair, exposed stretch of bosom.

Rosine was very silent for the rest of the meal, despite her companion’s efforts to engage her. On the carriage ride home, her husband noted her low spirits, but she only said that she felt rather ill. At his continued fond concern, she told herself that she had made something out of nothing, and that he was still her sweet Count. He kissed her before she retired, and then took a turn about the gardens below. She slept well.

The first time her husband smelled of another woman’s perfume, the Countess was truly ill, not claiming to be. She had caught a fever on their trip home from Madrid, and her husband had himself been out of sorts. Once they were installed comfortably once again at home, he called for Figaro to supervise the Countess’ care while he departed for a tour of his lands. Surveying the property generally repaired his sour mood.

Figaro made jokes and teased her into a small revival, and stayed by her side even after the doctor had left. The Countess’ new young maid stayed as well, doing more practical good by keeping her mistress cool and comfortable, letting the valet’s tongue wag as it pleased. In all, between the two of them, Rosine felt nearly like herself again by that evening, taking a bit of soup. She sent the servants away so they themselves might rest, assuring them she would ring if she needed anything.

She stayed up easily, after all her sleep, ready to thank her husband for his wisdom at leaving her in the hands of their capable friend Figaro. She was certain that his spirits would be as restored as her own, upon returning home. The lamps made the room glow dimly, and she listened to the servants chatter downstairs. With Figaro in charge, their spirits were almost always good.

By the time the Count returned home however, the lamps had burned down, and most of the chatter had burned down with it. The estate was all but silent. He expressed surprise that she was still awake, and she delivered her prepared thanks. The joy, however, was slightly lessened by the heavy scent that hung around him, and the few buttons that were missing from his normally immaculate clothing.

The first time she realized her husband no longer cared enough to hide his intrigues was when he brought a shepherdess to the house. He said he was rewarding her for saving some of his livestock that might have otherwise wandered into harm, their own lazy keeper having lost them. The story was so flimsy that even the servants looked embarrassed on their mistress' behalf.

That night, Rosine kissed Figaro. He tasted of wine and rough brown bread. He pulled away, with a small sheepish laugh, apologized smoothly as if he had been the one to start it, making it all a joke. Then he turned to go. Neither of them ever spoke of it again. She spent the rest of the night pretending she didn’t hear her husband through the richly decorated walls.

The last time her husband touched Rosine with kindness had been four years ago. It had been at Christmas, and they were throwing a party. She had begun donning a false cheerfulness with her jewelry each morning, but tonight she could almost touch the light spirits she’d enjoyed just after her marriage began. The mansion was gay and bright, adorned splendidly for the holiday. Her husband came in, handsome as he was always handsome, dashing as he had been fifteen years ago when he called up to her from the street. He smiled like the sun and proclaimed everything splendid. And then he kissed her, as if she was still his wife.

That night, when he did not come to her, she cried as if she were still a girl.